Sunday, February 5, 2012

3 Flaws That Ruin Otherwise Good Games

    Amongst the river of random knowledge that floats around in my head, I am aware of the fact that a gaming blog should be centered on actually playing games and probably shouldn't be about not playing them. But you know what? I'm not listening to reason today. No, sir; I'm not even willing to listen to my own reason. You see, I've hit a point in my life where I will stop playing a game even if it isn't soul-destroyingly bad. The only offense that a game has to commit to have me put it down permanently these days is simple: if it doesn't suck me in, it's fucking gone.

It wasn't always like this. At one point I would have played everything that was put in front of me as long as it kind of looked like a game.

 Sort of.

Now that I'm older, I just can't seem to dedicate myself to that mindset anymore. I'm willing to pass up ten decently good, engrossing experiences for more time with just one mind-blowingly, shit-wrangelingly fan-fucking-tastic experience.

Games like "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" and "Star Wars: The Old Republic" are sucking up my time faster than the black hole at the center of our galaxy is sucking up Type 1 civilizations -- and that's pretty fucking fast.

Seconds before the Fraggles learned the true meaning of oblivion

Since I have neither the interest nor the will to waste any more time on games that aren't at least nearly perfect, I have had to set up a bunch of rules, subconsciously, that govern which games get tossed into my don't-give-a-shit bucket. After mercilessly beating this information out of my foolishly secretive subconscious, I will try to establish the issues that keep me from playing a decently good, but somewhat boring game. Just keep in mind that even if it were possible to fix everything that I'm about to list, no game in the next four years will be as much fun, or be able to eat half as much time from a normal man's schedule as Skyrim. It wouldn't surprise me if the cure for cancer has been prolonged for another decade or so because of all the man-hours that have been lost in the last few months.

But hey, at least we still have the Polio vaccine

#1. Being Way Too Linear

Chief offender: the "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" series

   Sometimes it pays to keep a good, working formula going. Sometimes using the same idea over and over will make you stupid rich. Of all the games that attempt the rinse and repeat strategy of game design, Call of Duty is the best and most flamboyant example of all time. I have examined COD: MW3 with a crew of 100-year-old (sometimes) former prostitutes and from what we have gathered, this game seems to have reused the same assets that the previous games in the series had used.

Besides the fact that they always rip off the previous game in the series, they also happen to be really, really fucking linear. What does linear mean? Well, my prepubescent audience, do you remember those old "Hot Wheels" track sets that looked so fucking awesome when you were 12-and-a-half?

In COD the robots are represented by various minorities

That commercial is a good example of how the gameplay in COD works. Just imagine that instead of an orange track, it's a brown and grey track with some rocks and shit in some places. Oh, and instead of a plastic car, you're a camera with a G.I. Joe's right arm duct taped to it.

There are moments in MW3 that are good, to be sure. Unfortunately, COD has come to the same place that Michael Bay has been occupying for some time now. The COD series has found itself in a rut where every new entry must be more "explosive" and electrifying than the last. One-up-manship is clearly seen in MW3 as the set-pieces get more ridiculous and unbelievable.

I didn't get very into MW3, as you can guess. I couldn't keep my interest when the game seemed to keep screaming in my ears, embarrassingly, that it was relevant and exciting. At the end of the day, the complete lack of choice --even of the illusion of choice-- kept me disinterested. I'm sure that the inevitable sequel will try even harder to gain my attention, perhaps with some new gimmick. Although I can't claim that the COD games are horrible, I can make a reasonable prediction that I probably won't be playing MDW4 -- and for good reasons.

COD: Modern Dinosaur Warfare 4

#2. Assuming Your Game's Story is "Emotional"

Chief Offender: "Gears of War 3: GEAR HARDER*"

   I reached a point in playing Gears of War 3 where I realized that Epic Games have absolutely no idea how a normal human being functions emotionally. Surprisingly, it wasn't the overdone combat, the gritty and often explosive gore, or even the vacuous dialog that made me realize that GOW wasn't trying to relate to my softer and emotional, some would even say pussy, side. The game is enjoyable because of its absurdly brutal and testosterone packed characters and gameplay, not because of its lasting effect on the emotional psyche of people the world over.

Gears of War wants to be the video game version of The Expendables, it wants to be the WWE of the gaming world -- or at least that's what we thought it wanted to be when it debuted in 2006.  Now, in the black president-ed world we find ourselves in today, GOW has made a ridiculous effort to appeal to those annoying spasms in our guts we get every once in a while that women call "emotions". What makes it even worse is the way they went about playing up the feelings in GOW3.

The Gears team decided to create a love story in the last entry of the series: GOW2. The love story in that game felt like it had been squeezed in at the last moment to give more reasons for the fantastically "heterosexual" sidekick Dom to want to kill the Locust Horde. You see, even though the bad guys had managed to massacre the entire planet, there just weren't enough reasons for the player to completely fucking despise the chief enemy in the series. But alas, they needed the mostly male demographic to realize that this shit just got real by killing a somewhat attractive woman.

"Please imagine for a second that you have a girlfriend and that she looks like this"

So now that GOW2 had sprung what the development team no doubt thought was a seamless effort at character development, GOW3 came along and tried to pull the non-existent strings that Epic was absolutely positive they had set up in the previous game. The result?

Dom, who the last game tried to establish as apparently having nothing more to live for, drives a giant explosive Batmobile into the enemy horde, jihad-style. Dom also believes that some form of deus ex machina will prevent the huge explosion that he intends to obliterate all of the bad stuff with from also killing his friends -- even though they're right next to all the Locusts that his suicide bomb will attempt to destroy.

The emotional response I had from this gripping scene can be illustrated by the one thing that kept bouncing around in my head during that cutscene: "when will I get to kill shit again?". How hard did Epic try? The answer: pretty damn hard. Notice how at the very second of Dom's ridiculous death they switch to slow motion animations and a burnt out Marcus Fenix crying over the death of his former bosom buddy.

It can't be ignored that they also used the instrumental form of the saddest, most butt-hurtiest anthem of all time: Gary Jule's "Mad World". That song could make any Monty Python skit seem like a somber representation of human struggle and pain through a sea of endless sadness. In essence, that song is depression in its most elemental, visceral form. The fact that Epic used that song for that scene was a hint that they needed to make absolutely damn sure that the Mountain Dew drinking, overweight, 4chan visiting, UFC watching, all boy audience cried a little on the inside.

What happens when you switch the music to something more appropriate?

Epic Games no doubt wanted to end the "final" game in the series on an emotional note. Sometime around GOW2's development phase, there must have been a companywide meeting where they pitched ideas about how they could get people invested in their game. The problem was that the people playing their game weren't looking for reasons to get starry-eyed; they wanted to kill shit, and kill shit often. If the GOW playerbase wanted to feel sadness while playing their killing-simulator they could turn to easier, less intrusive means: like shooting up estrogen into their testicles.

Even though I loved the previous entries in the series, GOW3 couldn't draw me in with its attempts at creating an emotional backdrop. I'm the sort of person who likes his coffee black, his sad movies sad, and his murder-simulators murder-y.

#3. Thinking That More Polygons Makes Your Game Worth Playing (Again)

Chief Offender: Battlefield 3, Halo CE Anniversary Edition

   Quite a few games are guilty of this bullshit. Even if your game is great, which is rare, and even if you have compelling gameplay, releasing a sequel that's main selling point is that it looks shinier isn't good enough. Keep in mind I'm not trying to degrade the importance of visuals here. In a manner of speaking, visual quality can be the glue that holds your game together. The problem comes when you decide to essentially re-release a game that's new features can be summed up as being just a little bit prettier than the last game and having a bigger number at the end of the title.

When a devteam has no creative energy left, that is when we start to see meager updates packaged as a sequel. It's unfortunate that many of the games that fall into this category of just-not-quite-good-enough truly have the potential to be fantastic. Battlefield 3 is a prime example. The game is fun and engaging in its multiplayer, but you know what? You could say the same about most of the other Battlefield games. This article isn't about good games that are playable, it's about games that just aren't good enough to beat out the fierce competition, and BF3 fits squarely into that category.

Then there's the Halo: CE Anniversary Edition re-release. Everyone loved Halo: Combat Evolved....

....Ten years ago.

People were also quite fond of Beanie Babies at that time

Unlike Beanie Babies, people still like Halo: CE; well, actually they like the idea of how they remember Halo: CE. It's similar to the GoldenEye-Effect: our nostalgia tends to color our memories for the better. Our brains just aren't very content to leave well enough alone, so we tend to embellish our good experiences and forget how things really were back in the good-ol'-days.

Spoiler alert: GoldenEye sucks now.

It's like controlling a tank that's butt fucking a beached whale

And guess what? Halo: CE is only marginally better in the context of today's gaming environment than the original GoldenEye or Perfect Dark. It was what the console FPS genre needed to be in 2001: a working console FPS. These days the standards are set a little bit higher.

So where does that leave things for Halo: CE Anniversary? Well, as you can imagine, it's a shinier Halo: CE that is meant to leach off of the nostalgia of the now-adult 90's kids. Besides that, it's exactly as you'd expect. It's the game that helped usher in quite a few of the modern action genre's clichés. If you're looking for some kind of nostalgia it'll take you there, but so will some weed and an old photo album; and as a bonus, this method tends to be cheaper than the 39.99$ you'll pay to get to admire Cortana's primitive polygonal boobs.

 She doesn't wear a bra because they don't make them in equilateral shapes

In conclusion, these games aren't just helping the status quo to continue, they are the status quo. Games like Skyrim will always stand out of the crowd from all of the games that do exactly enough to make their money back. If you take anything away from this article it should be this: if you're a gamer, go ahead and keep on keep'n on playing those games, Playa. If you're a developer, stop making mediocre shit or studios like Bethesda will just keep on outdoing you.

*Some names have been changed

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